Recently I fished out a movie I’d nearly forgotten about. Back in 1993, my friend Suzanne gave me a call saying she wanted to go out to see a movie. This meant that, per our usual custom, SHE would pick out what we’d see and though I never complained 90% of her choices were forgettable nightmares. Of course even a broken clock is right at least twice a day and, every once in a great while, Suzanne would pick a winner. This was definitely the case when she chose FIRE IN THE SKY.
I hadn’t heard of the film and had no idea what it was about before walking into the theater. I assumed, based on the title, that this might be some artsy/religious movie Suzanne was not above dragging me to see. Thankfully, this was not the case!
The film was adapted from a book titled, “The Walton Experience,” and was said to chronicle the real-life abduction of a man named Travis Walton. This was not the first film to deal with this subject though definitely the best and timely as just a few months later television’s THE X-FILES would debut. In fact, X-FILES creator, Chris Carter, was said have chosen actor Robert Patrick as Agent John Dogget based on his work in this film.
Just as Agent Doggett’s predecessor’s office poster, I WANT TO BELIEVE, would proclaim, you are either a believer in this sort of thing or you aren’t. It would be arrogant for us to suggest that of all the billions of stars and planets that are out there we’re the only intelligent life that exists. This is still, however, a far cry from proving that we are being regularly visited, captured, and probed by alien beings. Trying to create a movie that depicts such an occurrence , especially one said to be based on fact, requires skilled acting and directing along with a deft script. In regards to FIRE IN THE SKY, I believe that this film succeeds (and not just because I WANT TO BELIEVE it does).
The story takes place in Snowflake, Arizona where a crew of loggers; Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney), Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), Allan Dallas (Craig Sheffer), David Whitlock (Peter Berg), Greg Hayes (played by an adult “Elliott” from E.T. Henry Thomas), and Bobby Cogdill (Bradley Craig) encounter an alien ship while leaving their work site. With the majority of the crew understandably wanting to get the Hell out of there, the adventurous Walton’s curiosity gets the best of him and he leaves the vehicle to get a closer look.
What happens next is still up for debate as Walton disappears, leaving his friends stunned and the locals muttering “foul play.” Putting even more pressure on them is Lt. Frank Watters (played by the legendary James Garner) whose tenacity has earned him a reputation of always getting his man. He has little patience for stories that hint at little green men being an alibi. The tension nearly reaches a boiling point until Walton shows up five days later; naked and confused at a nearby gas station. At this point the word “homicide” is replaced with “hoax” with Walton perceived as an attention-seeking glory hound with his friends dedicated co-conspirators (which makes no sense since one of the men, Allan Dallas, can’t stand him).
While the movie does show a post traumatic flashback of what supposedly took place with Walton aboard the ship, along with the invasive experiments he was to endure, this film forgoes much of the science fiction elements in favor of credible characters and the terrestrial drama his abduction creates. Although Walton is clearly a victim, the viewer finds themselves equally sympathetic to Patrick’s Mike Rogers who is left on Earth to deal with suspicion, financial woes, an unsupportive wife, not to mention the loss of his best friend. It is no surprise that Patrick’s’ performance would garner Chris Carter’s attention.
Director Robert Lieberman should also be commended for doing a stellar job at credibly executing this story while also capturing the essence of 1975 – the year this event took place. How he followed this project with D3: THE MIGHTY DUCKS is more of a mystery to me than Walton’s disappearance.
I recommend anyone who may have missed this film to seek it out and do so. I also challenge any UFO skeptics to explore this story and come up with their own explanations. Regardless, the next time you’re out taking a drive one should always remember the immortal words of Scotty from 1951’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and “Keep watching the skies.”
…and should you happen to see a UFO hovering for God sake, KEEP DRIVING!